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Paying for travel with points

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I have been "playing with points" for about 10 years, when our oldest decided to go to college out of state (and his sister followed 3 years later...).

We have gotten many free rooms in Vegas for 20-25 years simply by using our players cards when we play. We are NOT high rollers, but my mother told me that if I simply always put it in the machine when playing, we might get comps. She was right (tho they are a lot stingier these days...)

But this takes things to a whole new level!


Now, our numbers are actually down a bit this year..I have been using SWA gift cards (10% off periodically at Costco) to buy a lot of flights.

$1600 in flights & hotels covered using points for March-Oct. (I figure we have saved $260 with those SWA cards)

$2200 in flights & hotels covered using points from now thru April
$375 in cruise expenses covered with AmEx credits for Nov-Jan cruises

$9000 value of active points that we currently have!!!


This involves getting branded credit cards. By making a certain $ purchase over a period of time, you qualify for a point bonus. 

ONE CAVEAT--you MUST pay off cards each month in full (for the most part...) & almost always avoid making purchases that will charge an extra service fee. 

(there ARE times when it is OK to pay this...will describe later)


I started by getting SWA credit card. Since we fly SWA 95% of the time...made good sense. (another airline card may be best for you)

We were able to secure Companion Pass (BOGO) for most of the last 10 years by getting a huge bonus initially....

Then we charged private college tuition each semester. (then immediately paid it off with their 529 money). 

YES, there is a charge...but when you get 1-2 years of companion pass, WELL worth the fee!

DH got the card, too.You must go 2 years between bonus offers, so I may be cancelling mine late next year in a hope to secure Companion Pass again.

Not sure it will happen...they keep making it a bit harder as time goes by.

(we even got Companion getting 3 cards--American Express?--in 2017 which got us a week at a Marriott as well as Companion for nearly 2 years. 

We stayed on Waikiki beach FREE with that extra perk! They actually dropped that way to get SWA points as we were redeeming it so we snuck it in!)


Then we got IHG credit card. ($49 annually ) Then I got the premier IHG card. ($99 annually) The beauty of these cards is a free annual night EACH.

DH recently got these 2 cards too. We have nearly 100K points between the 2 off us...have never once run out in 10 years. 

Nearly always can get a room with points or the 4 "free" nights/yr. OK, we pay about $300 for those 4 nights--ugh, where can you get that price?


Got Capital One Venture to pay for DS's college expenses--took advantage of a huge sign up bonus.


Got Chase Sapphire Preferred to take advantage of a huge sign up bonus. DH did too. 

I upgraded to the Reserve card recently. $550 is a tough pill to swallow. But you get an annual $300 credit toward any travel purchase.

That puts it at $250...and preferred is already $95. We got it for the upgraded travel insurance that includes medical evacuation.

An annual policy that includes med evac was about $500, so a deal for us with the amount of travel we are doing now that we are retired.


I scour each card for offers often. This can be an increased % on certain purchases or $ off. 

RECENTLY I got the FREE American Express blue card. 

Their offers have been fantastic the last few months.

I have gotten $125 off $500 purchases on Carnival, Celebrity & NCL. (luckily we had upcoming cruises on them all)

I either paid off a cruise or pre-purchased things for onboard (excursions, internet, etc)


(TIP: stick with brands you KNOW you will use directly, other than the Chase/Capital One portals where you can book a wide variety. 

I transferred Citi points to Asian Air miles to book American...worked fine to book in 2019 for a trip in 2020....well, no longer.

I had quite a number of points expiring. Very frustrating. I donated them. That hurt a bit).


ALSO: Buy 100+ shares stock in the cruiseline (s) you sail the most. 

We own Carnival (Carnival & Princess) & NCL. (RCCL/Celebrity is considerably more per share, so haven't pulled the trigger on them yet...)

If you own 100+ shares you will get $50-250 OBC for every paid cruise you take on those lines.

We bought those shares in June & our investment is up $150 (tho not so long ago it was down $500🤪)

But have already gotten $550 OBC since July with $450 already on upcoming booked cruises.


(this does not even include OBC we have managed to get by booking onboard, watching deals from TA's, and other cruise specials)


It does require organization & attentiveness. It requires DISCIPLINE...so you don't find yourself in debt & paying insane interest rates.

To take advantage of sign up bonuses we charged EVERYTHING.

So all those things that used to come out of checking every month still did...we just paid them off in one chunk when we paid the credit card.

So we were NOT buying more, but simply changing how we paid for it. 

I even kept a small notebook in my purse noting everything we bought to be sure we were staying on budget.


Now EVERYTHING goes on a credit card that can so we can continue to accumulate points.

But if you do not/cannot pay the card(s) off every month, IT IS NOT WORTH IT.

(and there was CERTAINLY a time in our lives when it simply would not have been possible!)


But where there is a will, there's a way.

We are 2 (retired) teachers. 

Points paid a good chunk of travel for the last 10 years--to go see our kids, for them to see us, trips to Vegas, annual cruises.

I wish I knew how much it saved us over the years..SO wish I had kept track then! 

(OK..might have been a bit busy working...with 3 kids...)








Edited by KKB
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